Alun Wyn Jones completed his remarkable comeback from injury in the British & Irish Lions’ 49-3 win over the Stormers on Saturday, but it was young flyhalf Marcus Smith who was the star of the show in Cape Town.
Gameflow: The scoreline is much more flattering to the Lions than how the match actually played out. The tourists didn’t have it all their way, particularly in the first half. But while the Stormers did well to stick with them for the opening 30 minutes, the gulf in quality eventually took its toll on the hosts’ courageous defence, allowing the Lions to pull away and score a big win.
The Lions came into this encounter with a clear plan: to play the Stormers off their feet by injecting pace into the game at every opportunity. They sped up play with quickly taken lineouts, quick-tap penalties and intense counter-attacking rugby from the back. Unfortunately for them, their efforts were met by a resistant Stormers outfit. Not only did the home side’s defence frustrate the visitors, they would go on to accumulate the first points of the game via the boot of Tim Swiel.
But towards the end of the half, the Stormers began to fall off their tackles and the Lions – all too readily – pounced. Following a long buildup in play, which started with Duhan van der Merwe down the left flank, Tadhg Furlong ran through the heart of the Stormers defence and from there, they picked away at the gainline, never allowing the Stormers defence to settle. The pressure was just too much and soon lock Adam Beard, who ran a beautiful line, scored the opening try unopposed.
Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jonny Hill were next to score, as the Lions slowly started to build some rhythm and momentum. What would have been pleasing to coach Warren Gatland, was the flawless goal-kicking of Lions debutant Marcus Smith, who split the uprights with all his conversion attempts.
The same pattern followed in the second half, with the Stormers offering some resistance but ultimately falling by the wayside.
Gatland made several changes soon after the break, including the introduction of Jones and that set the Stormers back. They failed to offer anything on attack and were forced to play defence for the duration of the half. But they conceded four more tries to a Lions side that looked a well-oiled machine on attack and will be brimming with confidence going into the Test series.
Jones gets his 20 minutes: Gatland made several changes soon after the break, including the introduction of Jones, the tour captain whose Lions journey looked to have ended with a cruel shoulder injury suffered in their pre-tour match against Japan.
But Jones had made a miraculous recovery and had returned to the tour, with Gatland saying the 35-year-old needed only 20 minutes of action to come into consideration for Test selection. Well, he played for at least 28 minutes and during that cameo, Jones didn’t look out of his depth nor was he that far off the pace.
It all bodes well for Jones in his quest to extend his record as most capped player in Test history in the series against the Springboks.
Players who shone: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Smith and Van der Merwe were all in menacing form.
Cowan-Dickie was good in open play, but also strong at the breakdown, affecting several turnovers. Smith grew into his role and towards the end of the game, he had the confidence to take on the Stormers defenders and danced his way around several of would-be tacklers. For once, Van der Merwe didn’t get on the scoresheet. But his physicality and bulldozing runs often times are what got the Lions on the front foot on attack.
For the Stormers, Evan Roos was their main ball carrier. The No 8 willingly stepped up in the physicality stakes with little regard for his body and was unfortunately to be on the wrong side of the result.